Gegard Mousasi’s announcement on Twitter earlier this month that he would be fighting against Vitor Belfort next – which he later tried to play down as a hoax – has now become a reality.
The top 10 middleweight match-up will reportedly feature at UFC 204 – destined for Manchester, England on October 8th – and will likely featuring as the co-main event beneath Michael Bisping’s maiden 185lb world title defence against Dan Henderson.
After winning four out of his last five, a victory over a former UFC champion like Belfort could allow Mousasi, currently ranked #7 in the official rankings, to finally break into the top five and add his name to the mix of contenders vying for a title shot.
Belfort, meanwhile, will be hoping to bounce back into the win column after suffering a loss to countryman ‘Jacare’ Souza at UFC 198 in Brazil this past May. The former champion hasn’t suffered back-to-back defeats in over a decade.
With the top of 185lb division bubbling beneath Bisping, potential opponents aren’t hard to find. Yoel Romero, Jacare, Luke Rockhold and Chris Weidman have all voiced their displeasure at being overlooked as Bisping first defense. But the winner of Mousasi-Belfort could yet skip to the front of the pack.
What the UFC has on its hands right now is the opportunity to matchmake an unofficial middleweight tournament with so many top 10 fighters having legitimate claims for the next shot. And whether Bisping retains in his home town or Henderson repeats his infamous KO from UFC 100 but then relinquishes the belt for retirement, 2017 is shaping up to be a mammoth year for the middleweight division.
Romero is undefeated in the UFC, winning seven straight, although is coming off a USADA suspension; Jacare is man many consider to be the most deserving of a shot given his record, but he did recently lose to Romero; Rockhold could argue for a title rematch given his fight with Bisping was on short notice; and finally Weidman’s case is that Bisping took his shot at UFC 199 after he pulled out due to injury.